Last week it seemed Up All Night was ready to blossom. It was picked up for a full season by NBC, receiving compliments from critics and viewers alike; stars Will Arnett and Christina Applegate were working on all cylinders, and viewership was steady. For as good as last week’s episode was, it wasn’t mind-blowing. It was nice and made you feel warm and fuzzy. This week’s episode reaches that level and beyond. Up All Night was just not clever this week; it was downright funny.
In “Mr. Bob’s Toddler Kaleidoscope” Reagan and Chris decide eight-month-old Amy should start taking classes. We meet guest star Michael Hitchcock as Mr. Bob—an over-the-top playtime instructor who, according to Chris, is just as magical as seeing Bruce Springsteen live. The class is filled with cutesy babies, moms who speak in high-pitched baby talk and, of course, Chris. Will Arnett has been terrific throughout the beginning of the series, but here he really becomes extraordinary. He’s already been a great Mr. Mom, but he transforms into sort of a superhero. Chris wants nothing more than to be an amazing stay-at-home dad, and he goes above and beyond in the class. At first it seems like he’s trying to impress the adults, but it becomes evident that he wants to please the babies, most importantly Amy, who has giggle fits throughout the episode.
Reagan, on the other hand, starts attending the class after a mother passive aggressively attacks mothers who work and don’t stay at home. Amy’s Mom (as Mr. Bob calls all the parents) slips up at first because she missed classes and doesn’t know the rules, but she brings her A-game to one-up Kayla’s Mom every step of the way. The writers show the competitive side of parenting here, but it’s not petty. “Kaleidoscope” shows how absurd new moms and dads can be and comments on the matter in a light-hearted manner.
One of the other problems that Up All Night tackles is the balance of parenting and keeping existing friendships, and when the first few episodes focused heavily on the Reagan/Ava dilemma, it turned into a sour joke. Here, we get a fresh balance and instead of Reagan ignoring Ava’s comments, she confronts her and basically tells the talk show diva that their relationship is evolving. Ava is hurt and seems human for the first time. Just when the show is about to go soft, Ava returns to her finger-snapping sassiness and declares war on Reagan. The childlike games that were played between the two (especially on Ava’s side) throughout the series have been slight misses thus far, but again, this episode really proves that the writers know what they’re doing.
While we’re on Ava, she’s been the one unpleasant note of the show, and her oblivious nature used to get on my nerves. I really didn’t like her, but in this episode she’s become the perfect mixture of annoying and caring. A stand-out line is when she is talking to Missy about a speech she just performed and said it was as moving as Jack Nicholson in “That one movie You Can’t Handle The Truth.” Perhaps the best thing about it was that a beat wasn’t missed and the conversation continued down a ridiculous path. Missy, who finally gets much deserved screen time, is just as oblivious as Ava, but she’s more adorable and naïve.
Up All Night is on the rise to becoming a staple in NBC sitcom land. That’s not to say there won’t be down episodes, but I can’t see it falling anytime soon. At least not with the direction producers and writers are taking the freshman show. “Mr. Bob’s Toddler Kaleidoscope” is definitely a high episode and has reset the bar for how funny and sincere the series needs to be. It was an episode finally dedicated to parenting and not just a small aspect of their new life. Now that the writers have worked out the kinks, it’s time to go full throttle and continue to up the ante with each episode.